Gaming Build: Guide to PSUs

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Gaming Build: Guide to PSUs

Building a PC is now more accessible than ever. There are many ways to find compatible parts, and a quality rig can  last you longer than any console. As someone who, primarily, has been a console-based gamer for most of my run, I understand the perception that building a PC is intimidating or complex—so much so that I've gamed on consoles because I think they're as close to "plug-and-play" as is possible today. Luckily, building a PC is not as difficult as you might think; the hard part is doing the research and figuring out what you want from your machine. With a little bit of know-how, you'll come to see the connections between different parts are straightforward. In this guide, we'll take a closer look at power supply units (PSUs), specifically.

When researching the right pieces for your build, you'll find that components like the GPU or CPU often get the most spotlight. While your PSU might not be the flashiest part of your build, it’s responsible for the extremely critical role of delivering power to your other components. In that sense, you could make the argument that the PSU acts as the "heart" of your PC, pumping electricity throughout your system.

Thankfully, trying to find a PSU that works for your build is more on the straightforward side of things, too. The most important factors you need to consider are form factor and wattage. I've recommended PC Part Picker in the past as a great resource for planning your build and determining the compatibility of different parts, but when it comes to PSUs, it’s especially useful because it can take the guesswork out of figuring how much power your components will need. When you're plugging in parts, refer to the section that shows your "Estimated Wattage" to determine how much PSU you'll need. Another great tool is this Power Supply Calculator from OuterVision that has an expert and basic mode to give you a rough estimate of your system's power draw. We never want a situation in which the PSU can't keep up with what our system needs because you risk damaging your components—for example, or your PC suddenly shutting down.

MSI MPG A1000G PCIE5 1000W 80 PLUS Gold Modular Power Supply
MSI MPG A1000G PCIE5 1000W 80 PLUS Gold Modular Power Supply

Aside from using a tool or calculator, the biggest thing to pay attention to with power draw is your GPU, which can give you a baseline idea of where you should be looking numerically. The nice thing is that most card manufacturers will indicate how much wattage a specific card draws—however, that number doesn’t factor into your other parts, so be careful! Additionally, if you plan to "future-proof" your machine, having a PSU that's rated higher is never a bad thing. Higher-end GPUs draw more power than ever before and that's generally why card manufacturers suggest comparable PSUs to support those cards.

Non-Modular Power Supply (Corsair CX650)
Non-Modular Power Supply (Corsair CX650)
Semi-Modular Power Supply (Corsair CX650M)
Semi-Modular Power Supply (Corsair CX650M)
Modular Power Supply (Corsair RM850x)
Modular Power Supply (Corsair RM850x)

Another important element to pay attention to is form factor. Power supplies come in different form factors, but the most common ones you'll run across are ATX or ATX 12V. ATX form factor power supplies use a single 20-pin connector as the main power connector, where the 12V versions use 24-pins but otherwise share the same dimensions. The main connector runs directly to your motherboard, so definitely make sure the two are compatible. There are other form factors that are important to know, depending on your case's dimensions. Small Form Factor (SFX) PSUs are designed to be compatible with the more restrictive dimensions of smaller PC cases, so, once again, always check compatibility! Most cases will specify if they fit a specific type of PSU, so pay attention to those, too. Watching others build in the case you are considering is also another great way to see if the build you have in mind will work.

Corsair 850W SF-L 80 Plus Gold Modular Power Supply
Corsair 850W SF-L 80 Plus Gold Modular Power Supply

The nice thing about buying a PSU is that it comes with pretty much every cable you need—provided you've checked if they're compatible beforehand. The bulk of power supplies you'll find on the market will be listed as "modular," which just means that those PSUs have detachable power cables, so you can plug in what you need and avoid extra cables congesting the inside of your machine.

A slightly less important factor but something definitely worth paying attention to is your PSU's efficiency ratings. Here is a list of labels you'll come across when looking at PSUs:

The various levels represent how efficient your PSU is at certain power draws like 50 or 100%, with the "80" in the label indicating it'll at least be 80 percent efficient no matter what. The more efficient your PSU is, the less heat is wasted; 80 Plus Titanium is the best, in terms of efficiency.

With a better understanding of the above factors, you should have no problem finding the right PSU for your build. Even more so, I hope I've been able to impart the wisdom that no component in a build exists within its own bubble. Choosing one part will affect your choice of others, and while that can seem confusing at first, for those willing to put in a bit of time, piecing together your PC part by part can be worthwhile in the end. Not only will you save money in the long run, but you’ll also have a more granular understanding of how it all works together.

Let us know how your building journey is going in the Comments section, below!

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